Nothing Plastic About Lena Dunham’s Post-Graduate ‘Tiny Furniture’

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CHICAGO – The 24 year-old Lena Dunham is a new and notable voice for her generation of filmmakers, breaking in with her first feature, the memorable “Tiny Furniture.” Dunham wrote, directed and portrays the main character Aura, a newly minted film theory graduate who is going through the time honored process of what to do with her post collegiate life.

Tiny Furniture refers to the props that Aura’s mother (Laurie Simmons) utilizes as a working artist in her Soho (New York City) loft. She uses the tiny set pieces as contrast to the larger world, posing her other daughter Nadine (Grace Dunham) in high heels against the set-up. This is the scene that Aura comes home to, not so much welcomed back as tolerated into the household again.

She’s a bit confused on what is to become of her next, so she drifts to a party where she reconnects to a airy childhood friend Charlotte (Jemima Kirke) and meets a supposed video artist named Jed (Alex Karpovsky), who claims to be in NYC pitching program ideas to various cable networks. Both these relationships prove challenging to Aura, who also promised a college friend that they would get an apartment together.

Aura proudly gets a part-time job as a restaurant hostess, where she also meets one of the sous chefs, Keith (David Call). She has an attraction to him, but he rebuffs her with stories of his live-in girlfriend. Aura also offers to take in Jed when he needs a place to crash (while her mother and sister are visiting colleges) and further complicates her situation when she refuses to get back to her potential city roommate.

Through the Looking Glass: Lena Dunham as Aura in ‘Tiny Furniture’
Through the Looking Glass: Lena Dunham as Aura in ‘Tiny Furniture’
Photo credit: IFC Films

Aura juggles all these new balls of life and doesn’t seem to want to commit to any of them. In other words, she’s a normal 22 year-old trying to answer the question “what am I doing the rest of my life?”

Lena Dunham creates a true-life adventure with all the warts exposed. Aura as portrayed is an average looking woman, tattooed and with a low maintenance presentation. She has just broken up with a boyfriend, so the boys she brings into her new life are as fractious and unreliable as she seems to be. The males in the film don’t exactly represent the gender well, Jed is narcissistic and obnoxious, showing no appreciation for the warm bed that Aura gives him. Keith is even more creepy, passive-aggressively pursuing Aura and later using her.

But Aura’s friends and family are no help either. Dunham makes a pretty telling statement about the effort most people are putting into their connections these days. Aura hangs with Charlotte but doesn’t seem to like her, and totally disses her presumed solid relationship with her old college friend, as if she is scared of a togetherness she has to work at. Her sister is embarrassed about her, and she responds by walking through a high school party in panties and a tee-shirt. Her relationship with her Mother is barely there, unless she has crossed her. All connections are no connections.

The look of the film is “independent,” but Dunham is a creative filmmaker who makes the most of the part of New York City from which she can’t see the Chrysler Building. The streets are dirty and real, and her use of locations like a discarded construction pipe creates atmosphere that belies it’s lower budget. Her decision to use New York as just another neighborhood town was a perfect one.

All the supporting cast are distinct types that decorate the scene as well as the locations. Grace Dunham as perfect little sister Nadine has both the angel and devil part of her personality well balanced. Jemima Kirke plays spoiled boredom beautifully, even affecting a suspicious English accent. Both male parts, Karpovsky as Jed and Call as Keith, ooze their oiliness with almost a wink at the camera. Jed’s constant habit of reading Woody Allen’s book, “Without Feathers” is a nice piece of annoyance.

Girls Just Wanna Have: Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke as Charlotte in ‘Tiny Furniture’
Girls Just Wanna Have: Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke as Charlotte in ‘Tiny Furniture’
Photo credit: IFC Films

Comparing Aura to Benjamin in “The Graduate” is not too far off, albeit on another coast. Their attitudes are the same, but Aura has no Elaine or Mrs. Robinson to pursue, only a couple of boys who don’t like her in the end anyway. Forty years between the films also offers a great comparison between the “adultness” of the characters. Let’s just say that Benjamin seems emotionally more like Aura’s father when comparing their states of mind.

Symbolically, of course, Aura is the “tiny furniture” in the large cruel world, set up to be easily crushed by the giant turning sphere of everyday life in post-reality after college. She might make it, she might wear out her welcome, but she will have no choice but to continue her pursuit of a very relatable human endeavor.

”Tiny Furniture” continues its limited release in Chicago on December 10th at the Music Box Theater. Featuring Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, David Call, Alex Karpovsky and Grace Dunham. Written and directed by Lena Dunham. Rated “R.” Click here for the interview with writer/director Lena Dunham. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald,

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